Another impressive horror film from Korea, GONJIAM, HAUNTED ASYLUM (2018) is a found-footage story about the crew of a horror web series that ventures into a haunted psychiatric hospital, only to find themselves in a terrifying trap. It’s familiar fare, but the movie stakes out its own turf with some top-notch scares.
Ha-Joon runs a little horror web series and dreams of making it big by venturing into a notoriously haunted abandoned psychiatric hospital. This involves his crew of two cameramen and four young people recruited from the site to join the expedition. After setting up base camp, they explore the hospital, planting cameras and carrying others with them. To make his webcast a success, Ha-Joon is not above pushing the team and faking a few scares, but they soon find themselves encountering a very real evil.
If you’ve seen GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011), this is all pretty familiar, but GONJIAM makes the idea its own. The establishing scenes do a good job giving the characters individual personalities and showing them being, well, young people about to start an adventure, all pretty likeable. When they go into the hospital, the scenes feel a little crowded, but once they split up, things start to get more ominous and interesting, and when the scares arrive, they pack plenty of punch. The horror element is very well done.
On the downside, almost all the personalities and characters pretty much dissolve in crisis, the spirits are so powerful it eliminates hope, and the lore of the hospital is intriguingly hinted at but never really explored, explained, or paid off. This is a problem for me with many found footage films, where you have a great setup onto which a pretty conventional massacre is attached. A terrific exception is THE LAST EXORCISM, where the jaded reverend has his religious faith restored. In my view, the crisis part of the film is a chance to see what these people are really made of, and when it’s done well, it makes the horror so much more agonizing and engaging.
Overall, I liked it for what it was. The characters are likeable, the setting is spooky, and the horror elements are really well done.